There's a new coffee table styling trend designers are loving for a less pretentious living room

Stacking coffee tables high with books is the interior trend we didn't know we needed. Here's why you should try it, and why it might just have been inspired by Elton John

a living room with a coffee table stacked with books
(Image credit: Blaine Davis. Design: Timothy Godbold)

Styling a coffee table is an art in itself and, in all honesty, it's one that sometimes eludes me. A coffee table is such a functional piece of furniture, yet at the same time inhabits some of the most prime real estate in your living room. The challenge comes in creating a coffee table that delivers on your (doubtless) impeccable sense of taste, while not feeling over-posed. It's a fine line to walk.

When styling a piece of furniture, I usually advocate being as creative as possible with form, texture and color. Yet, of late, there's been an interior design trend I've been pinning, hearting and saving that's quite the opposite. It uses almost exclusively one piece of decor, and it's a trend I'm calling coffee table stacking

We spoke to some interior designers who are embracing the trend as a way to bring some casual elegance to this essential piece of living room furniture. 

What is this trend all about?

a coffee table styled with stacked books

(Image credit: Sean Litchfield. Design: Justin Charette Design)

This trend is all about going big with books, piling them high as a bold coffee table decor statement. 'I remember seeing a picture of Elton John’s home in England years ago,' recalls Hamptons-based interior design Timothy Godbold, 'and his library table had a huge amount of stacked books and a statue, of all things, amongst it in the center.'

I know what you're thinking - Elton John is an unlikely frontman for an interior design trend we're billing as the epitome of casual chic, but it does go to prove how this decor idea can transcend styles. 'I liked how it was a little in-your-face and maximalist,' Timothy continues, 'but also I’m not a fan of an overly-styled coffee table. It doesn’t feel authentic and I prefer a more lived-in look.'

It's also a way to create a talking point for this sociable space, and set out your passions for the world (or at least anyone who visits your home) to see. 'I love using stacks of books on coffee tables,' says interior designer Justin Charette. 'It can provide a lot of insight into the homeowners' interests.'

Of course, as much as it's a good spot to create your personal manifesto, it's a trick that also problem solves some of the issues of styling a coffee table. 'It creates layers for the table that can be handy in placing objects on top of,' Justin adds, 'plus, it's a great way to fill a table while keeping budget in mind.'

Choosing the right books

a stack of books on a coffee table

(Image credit: Blaine Davis. Design: Timothy Godbold)

While I might love that laissez-faire idea of taking a stack of books from the shelves and strewing them haphazardly on the coffee table, being selective with your choices is probably a good idea. 

'The book selection should always be a mixture of different topics because people actually do read them,' suggests Timothy Godbold, 'but I do also look at color...'

'In this Hamptons property, I didn’t do white, blue books in the room as I didn’t like that color with everything that was there, he says. 'I tend to knock out a couple of colors when I stack a table to give it a more symbiotic feel.'

Justin agrees that there's balance to be found in subject matter and good looks, while working with your coffee table size. 'It’s best to include books that reflect your personal interests, while keeping in mind that the cover and spine of book should be good looking.' he advises. 'I’d say make sure they are all hard covers, and for the most part keep them fairly large scale.' 

The finishing touches 

a minimal interior with a coffee table with stacked books

(Image credit: Timothy Kaye. Design: Manna Made)

This trend may go heavy on the coffee table books, but it's more limiting than it needs to be to say exclusively so, especially when the right piece of decor can add a sprinkle of magic. 'I add personal belongings from the owners on top of the stacks to add different heights,' Timothy says. 'They had a beautiful Hermes key tray I found, a couple of vases for flowers and a few objet that worked well.'

If you find yourself falling back into the overly ornate coffee table trap, Timothy has a simple piece of advice. 'Make it look personal, not too decorated.' 

Livingetc's coffee table design book essentials

Luke Arthur Wells
Freelancer writer

Luke Arthur Wells is a freelance design writer, award-winning interiors blogger and stylist, known for neutral, textural spaces with a luxury twist. He's worked with some of the UK's top design brands, counting the likes of Tom Dixon Studio as regular collaborators and his work has been featured in print and online in publications ranging from Domino Magazine to The Sunday Times. He's a hands-on type of interiors expert too, contributing practical renovation advice and DIY tutorials to a number of magazines, as well as to his own readers and followers via his blog and social media. He might currently be renovating a small Victorian house in England, but he dreams of light, spacious, neutral homes on the West Coast.